A Three-Day Pass
Paris, France
March 1945

Memoir by
Donald L. Franson

 

1972

  
Arc de Triomphe, Paris 1945 (small)I was in Paris, France in March 1945. The way it came about was this. There were only a few three-day passes given to our outfit, the 3187th Signal Service Battalion, then at Verdun. When one of us was to go, there was a cut of cards, and I won on this occasion.

The war was still on, and I remember while being in Paris, seeing headlines about the Rhine battles, sort of jolting me out of the vacation mood. I saw no damage in the city except a few craters on the outskirts. On first arriving, I went down a beautiful tree-lined boulevard (the Boulevard De Magenta, I think) from the railroad station to a troop hotel and Red Cross center.

I had a small room in a regular hotel, shared with another soldier. I spent most of my time sightseeing, he in painting the town, apparently — because at the end of our free time he said he hadn't seen any of the things I told him about, but wished he had.

Mornings I woke up to cries of newsvendors in Paris, listing the names of all the papers they carried. Bought some souvenirs, when available.
  

Arc de Triomphe, Paris 1945 (handwriting)I saw the Louvre: empty, almost, except for a bathtub-like Egyptian sarcophagus that Hitler couldn't carry away. Saw the Arch of Triumph, the Eiffel Tower. Rode around on the subway, the Metro. It was then being run by the U.S. Army; it had stopped during the war because of power shortages. "Where do you go?" said youths wanting to be guides, but I was my own guide. Subway branches are named after the destination. There were first and second classes, but tickets were cheap.

Rode to the Place de Republique, site of the Revolution (lots of star street crossings in Paris) but it was not a tourist spot and I felt like a foreigner.

I remember the Red Cross near the Opera, which had some doings or play, and it opened with three national anthems: US, British, and French. Sort of a thrill for me to stand up for them.

I had some white wine at a sidewalk cafe. Paris was of course full of U.S. soldiers then, only about six months after its liberation. Saw Notre Dame, even went in church. Postcards bought across the street. This is the oldest part of Paris. Seine book stalls. Quiet concrete-lined river. Weather was nice, Paris in the spring.

Interesting sights like Place Vendome: I went through late at night, a little frightened. I would have liked to have had a nice uniform there, but they took away our blouses when we went overseas — yet soldiers in Paris had them while I had a mackinaw.
  

Went to the Folies Bergere. Had to get tickets in advance, on the rue Richer, near Montmartre. (Montmartre is the home of Ben Zoof, in Verne's Hector Servadac  [Off on a Comet].) Nice show. Usherette said, "Tip for me?" — brushed off.

I didn't see Paris with friends, as I went on this lucky pass; others went before or later. Sidelight on the war — I often was thinking of the fact that German soldiers were sightseeing there a year before. Thought of this at the Folies. I discovered back of a drawer in my hotel room an old envelope, addressed to Fraulein something. I still have it. I always wondered about the lives of my counterpart enemy — back of the lines, office soldiers.
  

I'm glad I had this chance to see Paris, though I've read much about it. The Hotel Lutetia. "I Love Paris in the Spring Time", "Midnight in Paris", "The Last Time I Saw Paris" lots of songs. Parisian taxis with French horns, in Gershwin's "An American in Paris". The Left Bank; the story of Lindbergh landing at Le Bourget; Renault taxis saving the city in 1914; the terrible invasion in 1940.

One souvenir I bought was photos of the Liberation in 1944, showing civilians fighting as Germans left. The city was spared both times, 1940 and 1944 — a miracle. A beautiful city, due to wide boulevards; I suppose it's a traffic nightmare, like Washington. Gay Paree. Read about it in Les Miserables, still reading about it. One of the world's most interesting cities. I knew I would like to go there again, and spend more than three days.

 

© 1972 Donald L. Franson


  

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